Dozens of campaigners turned up today at the start of a public inquiry into a controversial Highland windfarm proposal to demonstrate the strength of local support for a 39-turbine scheme – the second – near the remote Sutherland village of Strathy.
A community leader described the project as “the last chance” to save the village.
The inquiry, which began with a focus on the implications for peatland, has bitterly divided the applicant Scottish and Southern Energy and its main objector RSPB Scotland.
Five miles away, SSE’s 33-turbine Strathy North windfarm is nearing completion. It is expected to be operational in June.
The proceedings have been overshadowed by a bitter row between the would-be developer and the bird charity.
RSPB Scotland claims the project, near Thurso, could take almost 25 years – the envisaged operational lifetime of the windfarm – to compensate for environmental damage it would inflict on the terrain during its construction.
It would stand on peatland in the heart of the internationally important Flow Country in Sutherland.
Speaking shortly before the inquiry got underway, Strathy and Armadale Community Council chairwoman Jeanette Mackay said: “I’m in favour because of the economic benefits this windfarm will bring to our community.
“Our population is falling to a very dangerous level and we see this as a last chance to create work for our young folk.
“We already have some investment from Strathy North and with that we have been able to create work for ourselves – lots of projects including fencing the whole village to keep the animals out.
“We have picnic tables, a dyker building dykes and an all-weather pitch which we would never otherwise to have been able to afford.”
The retired teacher said when she began teaching 40 years ago there were 12 primary schools along the north coast. There are now just three due to its shrinking population.
SSE maintains that its evidence shows there would be “very significant overall environmental gain for the Flow Country and for peatland restoration.”
It insists the Strathy South scheme would be built on low quality peat and it has pledged to “repair” 50 times the area of peatland on which the latest windfarm would sit.
A site visit will be held next Monday at 10am as part of the public inquiry.
Postponed consideration of ornithological issues has been rescheduled for June 9 to 11.